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The British Hegemony and Kerala's Opposition

Ralph Fitch was the first Englishman to visit India in 1583--of course, after the visit of King Alfred's Ambassadors to St. Thomas' Tomb in Mylapore in the ninth century.  After him came Captain Keeling in 1615 to Calicut and entered into a commercial and political treaty with the Zamorin.  The English built trade centers and factories at Vizhinjam in 1644, at Anchengo in 1684 along with a fort, and at Tellicherry. During the time of Mysore invasions (1766-1782) the English helped the Zamorin.  By 1801, Malabar became in its entirety part of the Madras Presidency.  By the end of the eighteenth century the British became the undisputed power in the whole of India.  In 1791 Cochin became a vassal of the British, paying an annual tribute.  By the treaties of 1795 and 4-805, the Travancore Raja also accepted British suzerainty. The British promised to help the state in the event of external aggression. The state agreed to pay the British 800,000 rupees a year in tribute.  Lord Cornwallis, formerly Governor of Britain in North America and at this time Governor General in India, negotiated a favorable settlement for Travancore; Velu Thampy Dalava represented Travancore in the negotiations for the treaty of 1805.  Because the Travancore government granted power to the British to intervene in the internal affairs of the state and because the state accepted to follow British advice in administration, the king and his subjects lost their political independence.


The British had to pay a great price in the loss of lives to bring Kerala under their power.  In North Kerala, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja of the Kottayam royal family led two revolts (1793-97, 1800-05) against the British in North Malabar.  On March 18, 1797 a company of 1,100 men under Major Cameron was ambushed and many killed while they were making their way through the Periya Pass.  The East India Company needed the military leadership of the great Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington and commander-in-chief of British forces in Malabar, to crush the revolt of Pazhassi Raja. 

General Wellesley came to Tellicherry to plan his strategy against the Raja's guerilla war tactics; We'llesleybuilt a network of roads to deploy troops, and set up military outposts in different parts of the coastal area and built forts in the hills.

In Travancore, Velu Thampi Dalawa led a rebellion against the British in 1808-09 because Colonel Macaulay' demanded that the state pay arrears of tribute promptly especially when the state was in serious financial difficulties and because the British Resident rejected the Dalawa's actions against Mathu Tharakan.  His lands were taken over illegally by the state in lieu of payment of taxes.  The Dalawa was assisted by Paliath Achan, the Chief Minister of Cochin, who was disappointed by the British settlements of pro-perty claims which were unfavorable to Cochin.

Velu Thampy unsuccessfully sought aid from the United States and the French against the British.  First, the joint forces of Achan and the Dalava stormed the British Resident's house in Cochin, but the Resident escaped in a ship to Malabar.  Second, the Dalava issued his famous Kundara Declaration of Independence on January 11, 1809 and exhorted the people to fight the British.  In a battle fought in Quilon, the British destroyed the rebel army and the Dalawa's house.  Col. St. Leger entered Travancore through the Aramboli Pass and encamped on the outskirts of Trivandrum with a strong army. Meanwhile Paliath Achan in Cochin defected to the British side.  The Raja of Travancore found himself in a no-win situation and sued for peace; he ordered the arrest of the Dalawa who sought asylum in the Bhagavati Temple at Mannadi. Before the king's men could arrest him, the Dalawa committed suicide.  His dead body was taken to Trivandrum and displayed on a gibbet.  The Dalawa's relatives were later exiled to the Maldive Islands.



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